9/15/14

The First Soliloquy in Ian McKellen's Richard III

Ian McKellen begins his 1995 film of Richard III with the Lancasters' defeat and the murder of Prince Edward and his father Henry VI. After an opening title, we see the Yorks celebrating their victory: talking, laughing, dancing, and listening to Stacey Kent singing Christopher Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd to His Love." As Kent finishes the song, we hear a squawk from another microphone as Richard prepares to speak. He delivers the first couplet—"Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York"—and looks at his brother Edward. The crowd laughs at his wit and applauds his subsequent, triumphant lines.

The mood changes when he says, "Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front" (9). The camera moves closer to his own visage, focusing on his teeth as he talks of frightening his adversaries' souls.

Though still in the speech's first third, in which Richard celebrates peace under the Yorks, we are headed toward something different. When we reach the couplet, "He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber / To the lascivious pleasing of a lute" (12-13), we move to a different chamber, a men's room, where Richard unbuttons his fly as he talks of "the lascivious pleasing of a lute" (13). The change of setting emphasizes that he describes peace negatively, as being corrupt and "lascivious."
He urinates as he begins the speech's second third—"But I, that am not made for sportive tricks / Nor made to court an amorous looking glass" (14-15)—then buttons up and walks stiffly toward the room's looking glass, his gait imitating what he says about "halt[ing]" past barking dogs (23). Before the mirror, he washes his one good hand and dries it, beginning stage business that we'll see throughout the film: the one-handed lighting of cigarettes, putting on of gloves, taking off of rings, pouring of drinks, and so on. When he speaks of looking at his shadow and "descant[ing] on [his] own deformity" (26), he illustrates his words by looking at himself in the mirror. He then leans closer, examining his face as speaks lines from the character's first soliloquy, in The Third Part of Henry VI:
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And wet my face with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.
                                                            (3.2.182)
As he contemplates one of his best weapons, his face, he seems to realize that we've been watching. He looks at us in the mirror, then directly at us as he begins the soliloquy's last third: "And therefore since I cannot prove a lover / . . . I am determin├Ęd to prove a villain" (28, 30).

He goes to the door, opens it, and says, "Plots have I laid" (32), then gestures with his little finger, inviting us to see the results of his schemes.
We then move outside, above a dock, where Richard finishes the speech by telling us that he has set the king against their brother Clarence.

Here it is, with the rest of the scene.

23 comments:

Lea said...

I've always loved that particular staging decision, and I wonder if McKellen is familiar with the moment in More's Richard III where Richard suborns the murder of the princes while sitting on the toilet ("a convenient carpet for such a council").

Bardprof said...

Thanks, Lea. This is really interesting. McKellen doesn't mention the passage in his comments on the screenplay, but knowing it certainly adds to his rendering of the scene.

Your comment also makes me think:

(1) Shakespeare must have had the passage in mind when he gave us Richard sitting on the throne, asking the page if he knows a good murderer. A throne stands in for a toilet—what's that about?

(2) Has any director has followed More and set part of 4.2 in a bathroom?

melanie fry said...

I thought that he did a great job of playing the character of Richard. Very evil and conniving, just the way shakespeare wanted him to be.

Warren said...

The Nazi overtones of the film really added to the sinister plot and actions or Richard III. The fact that he makes too many enemies and doesn't keep enough friends really seems to parallel the events of WWII as well. In all of his cunning he shot himself in the foot and became too suspicious and power hungry to succeed.

Will L said...

the metaphorical use of the evil of Richard the third and Nazi's was ingenious by the director. Ian McKellen did a fantastic job at keeping the character looking like a good guy but at the same time showing evil

Rforbes said...

After reading this over again I think I'm starting to better notice a pattern with Shakespearean villains. Nearly all of them have an almost inhuman air to them similar to that of a sociopath. What I found interesting about Richard is that because he is so much the central focus of this play he gains a bit more humanity than Shakespeare's other villains such as Iago.

Russ Gomery said...

this was one of my more favorite plays, and i feel that it is even more amazing as a movie. The choice of actors by the director was perfect for the parts. wouldn't change a thing, truth be told i like the controversial theme of the Nazi party.

Z. Hamblin said...

I liked the contrast between Olivier's and McKellan's Richard. I felt that Olivier's Richard, though still being villainous, was still charming; and Richard should be to allow him to plot behind his brother's backs without suspicion. McKellan's Richard on the other hand seemed creepier. The fact that he practically danced down the hallway of the hospital among all the sick and bleeding patients while laughing that he wooed Lady Anne just makes Richard seem crazy to me. I preferred Olivier's reaction to wooing Lady Anne over McKellan's, he just seemed amazed that it actually worked.

Shakespeare_Enjoyer said...

This movie was terribly depressing and slightly awkward to me. I mean he just seems soo slimey in the portrail of Richard that it seemed unbeleivable for me. I would have thought of a more cunning and sly creature to be Richard not this jolly sociopath that rubbed it in their faces. How would he be able to get away with it if he was that blunt and open about his plans? I think even the end was out of place in my opinion. Can anyone explain that weird smile after Richard killed himself? Its not like Edward actually killed him so why did he look like he did such a job well done?

Darven Travos said...

That was the whole point I think of the play though. To show how insane these events were. England was never beaten by France in war, but England was never able to win a lasting victory because of the political back stabbing that went on at home. I think Shakespeare was trying to not only portray history but also challenge his country to do better in the future.

MVallejo said...

The character Richard is a tyrant in the play, and I think McKellan did a good job of using the similarities of modern tyrants to get the point across of how evil he really was. Comparing Richard to the likes of Hitler or Mussolini I think is the easiest way to get the audience's attention about what kind of person Richard was. The scene in which he tells his secret police (Hitler also had this) to kill the two young princes was the point I knew his character didn't have one speck of good in him.

JT said...

I have to agree about the Nazi theme in this movie. The director was smart to use it because the audience would instantly pick up on the theme. Especially since everyone learns about WWII, it's easy for us to pick up on the theme and because of this it is easy to layout the scenario/scene in which all the audience will understand and comprehend.

Taylor Gantt said...

Richard III was my favorite of all the History plays because the play/film is about the pure evil of Richard III while other Histories were about "good" people for the most part that may have done bad things. Ian McKellen was amazing in this role and never for a second did I ever seen any good in him. In the evil part of me, I was almost rooting for him to do more and more terrible things to see the level of evil he would go to, and to see if he ever had a point where his action had affect on him. Obviously not.

aocampo4 said...

I found it all a little disturbing but maybe that was the intention because who would be okay with all of this happening around them. He is a great and insane villain because he is always plotting about what will/should happen next. It is interesting to see how the progression occurs the outsiders (those not in his mind) and for him internally. How the audience is someone he confides with about his evil plans.

Liz Curtis said...

Richard III makes an easy and believable villian for all the evil he does. However, McKellan comes across as unbelievably creepy in his portrayal of the King. I agree with Shakespeare_Enjoyer that this version of Richard looks like a sociopath. Being a sociopath wouldnt work considering what he has to get away with. A more cunning and sly Richard like that of Olivier's is more believable.

Jon Schifferle said...

I think the fact that he seems like a sociopath helps it a little. They are often thought of as the more cunning people, who are sinister and always plotting some sort of elaborate crime, which is exactly what this was.

Jon Schifferle said...

It was curious how good he was at making the audience want him to do well. That's always a good sign when you're doing something awful and much of the audience is still rooting for you

Lauren Nguetta said...

I found this movie very interesting due to the portrayal of Richard the Third. In the movie, the actor portrays him as a very sick and twisted man who is hungry for power. He is not like many of the other characters we have seen yet which found I found to be a refreshing change. While many other stories revolve around love, or other noble things such as fighting for ones country, this story focuses on selfishness and evil.

Cody Scarborough said...

Ian McKellen does a great job I feel of making his character just as evil as Shakespeare would have wanted. He is a very convincing actor and plays the part well all the way down to the vicious facial expressions. Richard is not meant to be a soft and easy going character, and McKellen portrays that quite well.

Riccardo Masoni said...

I liked how the play was portrayed in a modern war time setting. I though it was a neat move for them to do in the making of this film. I felt that this different setting allowed the director to portray the totalitarian methods that King Richard III with greater impact. Especially because by interpretation it somewhat showed similarities between King Richard III and future totalitarian leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Mary Larson said...

I really believe that Ian McKellen does a wonderful job at portraying the character of Richard III. During his soliloquy, McKellen showed emotion and a little bit of his evil side. I think the shooting of this scene also made the affect of the soliloquy stronger. I also like how he would talk directly into the audience. This made the soliloquy capture the audiences' attention and made me feel more engaged with the film.

Walter said...

I wasn't quite sure how I felt after hearing the first soliloquy by Richard. As the play goes on it turns out to be one of my favorites we have seen. I just like how Richard comes off as a nice guy then turns around and is a villein. The way Richard kind of feeds off on the viewers made all of his soliloquy's interesting and fun to watch.

danicashultz said...

I found this passage very helpful because I read it before I watched the film, and it really helped display the sinisterness and psychopathic tendencies of Richard III.